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Ascend Sierra-1 V2 Speaker Review

Rate this speaker:

  • 1. Poor (headless panther)

    Votes: 2 0.6%
  • 2. Not terrible (postman panther)

    Votes: 8 2.4%
  • 3. Fine (happy panther)

    Votes: 49 14.7%
  • 4. Great (golfing panther)

    Votes: 275 82.3%

  • Total voters
    334

amirm

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This is a review, listening tests, EQ and detailed measurements of the Ascend Acoustics Sierra-1 V2 bookshelf speaker. It is on kind loan from a member and costs US $998 for a pair ($948 on sale).
Ascend Acoustics Sierra-1 V2 Speaker Anechoic CEA2034 Speaker Review.jpg

The finish is nice enough. The cabinet feels quite heavy for its size and especially in the front indicating beefy low frequency woofer. I do wish the grill was magnetic though rather than plastic tabs that are more delicate. I did my testing without it and would have been nice to not see those holes.

Back panel put a big smile on my face:
Ascend Acoustics Sierra-1 V2 Speaker Anechoic CEA2034 Speaker Klippel NFS Optimized back panel...jpg

See the "NFS Optimized" tag! A couple of years ago I tested an Ascend speaker and found the performance wanting. Needless to say, the company owner/designer, Dave, was not happy. But instead of taking his anger on me, he reached out to Klippel to learn more about the Near-field Scanner I had used to test his speaker. He quickly ordered one and started to revamp his speaker designs. We have seen an example of this in electronics area and benefits it brings to the company and its buyers. Such is happening here in speaker design.

It was with nervous fingers and ears that I went into this testing. Yes, there is another set of measurements out there but my testing differs enough to merit testing a user purchased sample. So here we go.

FYI, I ran the measurements by Dave (company designer) last night and they correlate very well with their internal measurements. There is a tiny bit of deviation in bass well below response of the speaker which is not material. And at any rate, I measured the speaker at 59 degrees F which tens to damp bass response a bit.

If you are not familiar with the measurements you are about to see, I highly recommend you watch my video on understanding speaker measurements:

Ascend Sierra-1 V2 Speaker Measurements
Let's start with our speaker frequency response measurements as usual:

Ascend Acoustics Sierra-1 V2 Speaker Anechoic CEA2034 Frequency Response.png

On axis response is quite good with only small variations here and there which my higher resolution scan brings out more than other measurements. We see a couple of small resonances below 1000 Hz (see below for cause). And a dip around 3 kHz. But really, these are very minor. What is very remarkable is the early window response in dashed blue. It is so smooth and nice after 900 Hz. We can see that in detail in early window response:
Ascend Acoustics Sierra-1 V2 Speaker Anechoic CEA2034 early window Frequency Response.png

This is what you get with closed loop measurements and excellent engineering folks! All the reflections so nicely sum together, likely better than any speaker I have measured! This means the speaker will be very room friendly and easy to place. To wit, putting everything together we get an excellent predicted in-room response:
Ascend Acoustics Sierra-1 V2 Speaker Anechoic CEA2034 predicted in-room Frequency Response.png

Amazing that this is achieved in a passive speaker without DSP!

Close-in measurements of the port and driver show resonances very well suppressed:
Ascend Acoustics Sierra-1 V2 Speaker Anechoic CEA2034 Speaker near-field measurements.png

Putting on our hyper scrutiny hat, we do see minor contributions from the port resonances in on-axis response. But as judgements go against countless other bookshelf speakers, this is excellent showing.

Sensitivity of the speaker is low side to get that deeper, flat extended response and that brings out issues with the woofer not being able to handle high SPL very gracefully:
Ascend Acoustics Sierra-1 V2 Speaker Anechoic CEA2034  THD percentage distortion Response.png

Ascend Acoustics Sierra-1 V2 Speaker Anechoic CEA2034  THD distortion Response.png


But keep that thought when I evaluate this in listening tests.

I showed this tri-power sweep in the last speaker review and folks liked it so I repeated it here. Alas, 102 dBSPL was causing the speaker to nearly blow its mind so it is well outside of its design envelop:
Ascend Acoustics Sierra-1 V2 Speaker Anechoic CEA2034  Power Sweep Response.png

The difference between 86 and 96 is too minor to be of concern.

Horizontal directivity is fairly well control especially considering that we don't have a deep waveguide:
Ascend Acoustics Sierra-1 V2 Speaker Anechoic CEA2034 horizontal beam width Response.png

The lack of waveguide is what allows the wider directivity which again, I will evaluate in listening tests.

Ascend Acoustics Sierra-1 V2 Speaker Anechoic CEA2034 horizontal directivity Response.png


Vertical directivity has the typical issues we see in non-coaxial designs so nothing of specific worry here:
Ascend Acoustics Sierra-1 V2 Speaker Anechoic CEA2034 vertical directivity Response.png



Impedance is unusually high in this day and age, making the speaker an easier drive although lack of sensitivity means you still need lot of power on tap:
Ascend Acoustics Sierra-1 V2 Speaker Anechoic CEA2034 impedance and phase Response.png


Here is our waterfall and step responses:
Ascend Acoustics Sierra-1 V2 Speaker Anechoic CEA2034 CSD Waterfall Response.png

Ascend Acoustics Sierra-1 V2 Speaker Anechoic CEA2034  Step Response.png


Ascend Sierra-1 V2 Listening Tests and Equalization
As I noted at the outset, I was a bit nervous about going into this aspect of the listening test. Would I like a speaker that is fully optimized with NFS in listening tests? Would I be biased to like it regardless? I always start with my female tracks and here, the response left no room for complaining. Sound was balanced with no aspect of the speaker standing out until a bass note activated a room mode which I corrected with my usual 105 Hz filter. I then listened some more. Am I liking this sound? Answer was, that it was pleasant but not exciting. Measurements showed that speaker was optimized for off-axis and PIR more than on-axis. Let's see what happens when we reverse this situation and flatten on-axis:
Ascend Acoustics Sierra-1 V2 Speaker Anechoic CEA2034 Speaker Equalization EQ.png

I started with Band 2, filling that small treble dip. That very nicely brought female vocals forward. That encouraged me to then pull down the two port resonances. Yes, the filter strength is very low but it was enough to change the character of the upper bass. Once all the filters were in place, I performed AB tests and boy, I really, really liked the results with this EQ. We are talking about subtle differences but the sound was more open and clarity was improved.

What was really nice was the spatial qualities of the speaker. Its wide directivity meant it projected a large halo around the single speaker I was listening to. This, combined with the tiny tweaks above made for stunning presentation at times. Some of my reference tracks sounded so good that my jaw fell on the floor!

I was expecting to hear distortion at elevated volumes but this did not materialize. Even at elevated playback levels where I could see the woofer moving back and forth, I could not detect any degradation.

The problem area with respect to distortion is in deep sub-bass region. Most bookshelves won't bother to play this range. The Sierra-1 V2 doesn't shy away and attempts to play them at full amplitude resulting in fair amount of distortion. Fortunately this only shows up in my "speaker killer" tracks. On all others, even deep bass was reproduced exceptionally well.

Conclusions
When I was offered this speaker for review at first I thought, well it was measured and tested elsewhere so maybe I need to pass. I am glad I did not and performed the review. We got to test a random production sample and managed to extract some other insights about the speaker. In a nutshell, the design is heavily optimized for off-axis and predicted in-room response which makes the speaker very room friendly and is critical in listener preference studies. The on-axis response which while excellent in this product class, shows a bit of variations. My informal testing shows that slight corrections to response yields subjective improvements in listening. Whether this translates to others or not, I can't say.

The high level picture is that company has made an incredible investment in instrumentation and optimization of its product and it shows. Likely ton of effort has gone into scan after scan to produce some of the best measurements I have seen. Having a Klippel NFS is one thing. Putting up with multi-hour scans for every test iteration is another.

It is my pleasure to add the Ascend Acoustics Sierra-1 V2 speaker to my recommended list.

------------
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

Any donations are much appreciated using: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
 

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amirm

amirm

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Reserved for @AdamG to kindly post the specs. :)

SIERRA-1 V2 SPECIFICATIONS​



Typical In-Room Frequency Response39Hz - 23kHz
Typical In-Room Sensitivity87dB @ 2.83v / 1 meter
Nominal Impedance8 ohms
Max Continuous Power*180 watts
Max Short Term Peak Power*250 watts
Cabinet DetailExclusive V-LAM™ construction featuring 20mm thick vertically laminated bamboo, internally braced. Bass reflex via flared rear port tube
TweeterCustomized version of SEAS "Titan" dome tweeter, with titanium former, 26mm aluminum/magnesium alloy dome, large tuned damping chamber and copper cap for reduced distortion and inductance
WooferProprietary 5.25” long throw mineral-filled polypropylene cone, non-resonant cast aluminum frame, copper shorting rings, low-inductance motor assembly, vented pole-piece and vented spider.
Connections(2) gold plated all metal 5 way binding posts
Inserts1/4-20 threaded insert for securing to our TP-24 stands
Bass Extension (-6dB)45Hz
Anechoic Frequency Response53Hz - 23kHz +/- 3dB
Anechoic Sensitivity83dB @ 2.83v / 1 meter
Dimensions H x W x D**14.25" x 7.5" x 10.5"
Speaker Weight (each)18.5 pounds
Shipping Weight (pair)43 pounds
Minimum Recommended Amplifier Power Rating for Speaker Distance to Listening Position
3 Feet or Less3 watts minimum
9 Feet or Less33 watts minimum
15 Feet or Less90 watts minimum
21 Feet or More180 watts minimum
*Unclipped peaks **Grille On
 
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thewas

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Nice one, as currently all their newer NFS engineered ones.

In a nutshell, the design is heavily optimized for off-axis and predicted in-room response which makes the speaker very room friendly and is critical in listener preference studies. The on-axis response which while excellent in this product class, shows a bit of variations. My informal testing shows that slight corrections to response yields subjective improvements in listening. Whether this translates to others or not, I can't say.
At which distance did you do the listening?
 

Power Pop 23

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Move a comma on the price listed.......
 

thewas

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Move a comma on the price listed.......
Even with a comma movement the pair price seems quite different to the one on their website, 1648 vs 948?
 

DWPress

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But instead of taking his anger on me, he reached out to Klippel to learn more about the Near-field Scanner I had used to test his speaker. He quickly ordered one and started to revamp his speaker designs. We have seen an example of this in electronics area and benefits it brings to the company and its buyers. Such is happening here in speaker design.

This, perhaps, is one of the better things to come from ASR in general. People making our gear are starting to incorporate advanced science to produce measurably better gear!
 

kemmler3D

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What an absolute flex to get that PIR and preference score with a passive speaker. Put this thing in pretty much any* room with a sub and you're already in good shape. Well done, Ascend!

*Not a big room... but for sub-$1K you can't run rock concerts.
 

martin900

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"NFS Optimized"

Disappointing, hopefully not another company going similar route after the Chinese pushing the DACs to godknowswhat SINAD levels with NFB and other tricks to get to the top of the chart but forgetting about the most important - sound, something which is purely subjective and it's what it's about in this hobby - It has to pleasure the ears (and eyes!) and not a cold piece of electronics to plot a nice looking chart.
 

Chrispy

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I ran my Sierra-1s (NrT v.1) in a larger room and found them a bit lacking there but moved to my smaller bedroom, are much better there. Love these speakers, glad to know v.2 has benefitted from some extra effort by Dave.
What an absolute flex to get that PIR and preference score with a passive speaker. Put this thing in pretty much any* room with a sub and you're already in good shape. Well done, Ascend!

*Not a big room... but for sub-$1K you can't run rock concerts.
 

peniku8

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Glad to read about them getting and using the NFS, that's great news!
I looked at the linearity test and wondered how that large ~3KHz dip manifested. Might the mic not have been on axis? From the directivity plot it looks like it could've been a little too low for that specific test maybe. Same thing shows up in the waterfall, which masks eventual resonances in that region.

index.php


index.php


index.php
 

AudioSceptic

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This is a review, listening tests, EQ and detailed measurements of the Ascend Acoustics Sierra-1 V2 bookshelf speaker. It is on kind loan from a member and costs US $16,48 for a pair.
View attachment 359703
The finish is nice enough. The cabinet feels quite heavy for its size and especially in the front indicating beefy low frequency woofer. I do wish the grill was magnetic though rather than plastic tabs that are more delicate. I did my testing without it and would have been nice to not see those holes.

Back panel put a big smile on my face:
View attachment 359704
See the "NFS Optimized" tag! A couple of years ago I tested an Ascend speaker and found the performance wanting. Needless to say, the company owner/designer, Dave, was not happy. But instead of taking his anger on me, he reached out to Klippel to learn more about the Near-field Scanner I had used to test his speaker. He quickly ordered one and started to revamp his speaker designs. We have seen an example of this in electronics area and benefits it brings to the company and its buyers. Such is happening here in speaker design.

It was with nervous fingers and ears that I went into this testing. Yes, there is another set of measurements out there but my testing differs enough to merit testing a user purchased sample. So here we go.

FYI, I ran the measurements by Dave (company designer) last night and they correlate very well with their internal measurements. There is a tiny bit of deviation in bass well below response of the speaker which is not material. And at any rate, I measured the speaker at 59 degrees F which tens to damp bass response a bit.

If you are not familiar with the measurements you are about to see, I highly recommend you watch my video on understanding speaker measurements:

Ascend Sierra-1 V2 Speaker Measurements
Let's start with our speaker frequency response measurements as usual:

View attachment 359706
On axis response is quite good with only small variations here and there which my higher resolution scan brings out more than other measurements. We see a couple of small resonances below 1000 Hz (see below for cause). And a dip around 3 kHz. But really, these are very minor. What is very remarkable is the early window response in dashed blue. It is so smooth and nice after 900 Hz. We can see that in detail in early window response:
View attachment 359708
This is what you get with closed loop measurements and excellent engineering folks! All the reflections so nicely sum together, likely better than any speaker I have measured! This means the speaker will be very room friendly and easy to place. To wit, putting everything together and we get an excellent predicted in-room response:
View attachment 359709
Amazing that this is achieved in a passive speaker without DSP!

Close-in measurements of the port and driver show resonances very well suppressed:
View attachment 359710
Putting on our hyper scrutiny hat, we do see minor contributions from the port resonances in on-axis response. But as judgements go against countless other bookshelf speakers, this is excellent showing.

Sensitivity of the speaker is low side to get that deeper, flat extended response and that brings out issues with the woofer not being able to handle high SPL very gracefully:
View attachment 359711
View attachment 359712

But keep that thought when I evaluate this in listening tests.

I showed this tri-power sweep in the last speaker review and folks liked it so I repeated it here. Alas, 102 dBSPL was causing the speaker to nearly blow its mind so it is well outside of its design envelop:
View attachment 359713
The difference between 86 and 96 is too minor to be of concern.

Horizontal directivity is fairly well control especially considering that we don't have a deep waveguide:
View attachment 359715
The lack of waveguide is what allows the wider directivity which again, I will evaluate in listening tests.

View attachment 359716

Vertical directivity has the typical issues we see in non-coaxial designs so nothing of specific worry here:
View attachment 359717


Impedance is unusually high in this day and age, making the speaker an easier drive although lack of sensitivity means you still need lot of power on tap:
View attachment 359714

Here is our waterfall and step responses:
View attachment 359718
View attachment 359719

Ascend Sierra-1 V2 Listening Tests and Equalization
As I noted at the outset, I was a bit nervous about going into this aspect of the listening test. Would I like a speaker that is fully optimized with NFS in listening tests? Would I be biased to like it regardless? I always start with my female tracks and here, the response left no room for complaining. Sound was balanced with no aspect of the speaker standing out until a bass note activated a room mode which I corrected with my usual 105 Hz filter. I then listened some more. Am I liking this sound? Answer was, that it was pleasant but not exciting. Measurements showed that speaker was optimized for off-axis and PIR more than on-axis. Let's see what happens when we reverse this situation and flatten on-axis:
View attachment 359720
I started with Band 2, filling that small bass dip. That very nicely brought female vocals forward. That encouraged me to then pull down the two port resonances. Yes, the filter strength is very low but it was enough to change the character of the upper bass. Once all the filters were in place, I performed AB tests and boy, I really, really liked the results with this EQ. We are talking about subtle differences but the sound was more open and clarity was improved.

What was really nice was the spatial qualities of the speaker. Its wide directivity meant it projected a large halo around the single speaker I was listening to. This, combined with the tiny tweaks above made for stunning presentation at times. Some of my reference tracks sounded so good that my jaw fell on the floor!

I was expecting to hear distortion at elevated volumes but this did not materialize. Even at elevated playback levels where I could see the woofer moving back and forth, I could not detect any degradation.

The problem area with respect to distortion is in deep sub-bass region. Most bookshelves won't bother to play this range. The Sierra-1 V2 doesn't shy away and attempts to play them at full amplitude resulting in fair amount of distortion. Fortunately this only shows up in my "speaker killer" tracks. On all others, even deep bass was reproduced exceptionally well.

Conclusions
When I was offered this speaker for review at first I thought, well it was measured and tested elsewhere so maybe I need to pass. I am glad I did not and performed the review. We got to test a random production sample and managed to extract some other insights about the speaker. In a nutshell, the design is heavily optimized for off-axis and predicted in-room response which makes the speaker very room friendly and is critical in listener preference studies. The on-axis response which while excellent in this product class, shows a bit of variations. My informal testing shows that slight corrections to response yields subjective improvements in listening. Whether this translates to others or not, I can't say.

The high level picture is that company has made an incredible investment in instrumentation and optimization of its product and it shows. Likely ton of effort has gone into scan after scan to produce some of the best measurements I have seen. Having a Klippel NFS is one thing. Putting up with multi-hour scans for every test iteration is another.

It is my pleasure to add the Ascend Acoustics Sierra-1 V2 speaker to my recommended list.

------------
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

Any donations are much appreciated using: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
Price on the Ascend website is $948/pair.
 
Last edited:

Doodski

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"NFS Optimized"

Disappointing, hopefully not another company going similar route after the Chinese pushing the DACs to godknowswhat SINAD levels with NFB and other tricks to get to the top of the chart but forgetting about the most important - sound, something which is purely subjective and it's what it's about in this hobby - It has to pleasure the ears (and eyes!) and not a cold piece of electronics to plot a nice looking chart.
The idea of NFS Optimized is to get good frequency response and afterwards what you do with that with PEQ is your business. This speaker will respond well to PEQ as it is a well designed speaker. As per DACs what is wrong with negative feedback in audio amp circuitry? The last time I sat down and crunched the numbers negative feedback made good sense.
 

Matias

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Very impressive what Ascend has been releasing these days. Congrats, Dave.

Thanks for the review, Amir. Hopefully you can get a Sierra LX or the larger ELX tower to review as well. They also seem to be awesome.
 
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